If I could draw my mother on a paper, would I split her into two people. One would be happy, joyful, and kind, while the other would be angry, harsh, and cruel, with the figure rotating at a mere minutes’ notice.
When I was five years of age, I had a bad habit of slamming the car door hard . Mom would tell me from time to time to stop until one day she made me stick out my hand for her. She slapped it so hard that it was red for about ten minutes afterward.
At age eight, I developed a case of the chicken pox. My mother insisted on taking me with her for errands. She actually stuck me in the daycare center at the YMCA, despite my having a contagious disease! I told the daycare worker that I was sick with chicken pox, and my mother had to come retrieve me. She yelled at me in the car for not keeping quiet about it until we arrived at the mall. While there, we bumped into my grandmother. My grandmother, outraged, threatened to take full custody of me on the spot if my mother did not take me home to rest.
During my seventeenth year, my mother’s parents and brother passed away, and her temper, as a result, worsened. When I couldn’t find a date for prom, she called me a fat loser, and slapped me so hard that she split my lip. My father told me not to tell my grandparents about it, despite the fact that I nearly broke down in front of my grandmother over it. Mom would notice my lip from time to time while I was applying makeup, and comment on it, asking me what I did to “mess up my face.”
She was hard on me in terms of my academics, and the fact that I struggled with a difficult math-based course did not help. When I was carrying a B-minus in the course, and she slapped me six times across the face, and kicked me across the floor for “not taking the course seriously” despite the fact that I consistently sought help with the teacher after class. Dad managed to grab her after the first three swings, but she later re-entered the room. Dad, fearful of the repercussions of attempting to stop her again, took out his frustration by punching a nearby door.
I was also a cheerleader for the entirety of my high school career, and as a result, learned several tumbling techniques. During a week in which I was consistently botching a tumbling pass due to a mental block, and falling on the mat, she became violent once more. While our pickup truck sat in an empty parking lot, she smacked me several times. The hardest smack dislodged and broke my glasses. When the salesperson at the store inquired as to how the pair had come to be so damaged, Mom replied, “Oh, my daughter broke them. She’s so clumsy.”
Unfortunately, I was not the only victim of her anger. Several nights during the age of three, I hear my parents scream at each other, with my mom usually screaming louder, followed by slapping noises, and the sound of household objects breaking. My father never hit; it was against his upbringing, and considering his size and stature, the result of college bodybuilding, he would probably have done serious damage to her if he did.
Mom always said the reason why I never had a sibling was because we couldn’t have afforded one. It wasn’t until this year that Dad told me the whole story: she kicked him so hard in the testicles that it sterilized him. She also liked to threaten to throw him out of the house, and would call me into the room to say, “See her now? You’ll NEVER see her again!” The thing Mom didn’t count on, though, was the fact that I would cry and run to my father, not wanting him to go. During my freshman year in high school, I even fell to my knees before her, and begged her not to throw my father out.
I never did go to anyone for help when I was a minor for a few reasons. The first was the fact that my idea of child and spousal abuse was inaccurate. Child abuse, by my juvenile depiction, was children being knocked unconscious or living in squalor, while spousal abuse was (usually a female) victim crawling away from a hovering tormentor. Added to this inaccuracy was the fact that Mom used to say, “My mother did far worse to me!”
I never wanted to break up my family. Again, she was two people in one body; the same person that hit and spat venom cheered for me on the side lines, surprised my father with gifts and celebrations in his honor, and cared for both of us with a gentle voice when we were ill. For that, I just internalized the abuse like a coward, never calling the police, or getting help. This was the despite the fact that her favorite go-to threats were “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out,” and “I’ll chop your goddamn head off if you don’t shut the fuck up!”
My freshman year of college was when I realized that I was being abused. Far from the grasp of her influence, and effectively burying myself in task of writing a novel (an idea she used to scoff at and dissuade me from doing in high school) allowed me to examine my life with a different lens. What I saw thoroughly disgusted me. While I did not confront her about it yet, as I was still unsure of it (not to mention she had threatened three times that year alone to pull me out of college), she took notice of my altered body language told her, declaring that college had messed me up even worse than high school had. Exhibit A: When I caught the flu, and called her for tips on how to handle it, she, assuming morning sickness off the bat, immediately accused me of carrying my boyfriend’s child.
In the long run, it all came to naught; my parents divorced anyway during my sophomore year. The two told me, point blank, in my dorm room that they were through. My mother accused me of smirking during the proclamation; in reality, I was holding my face hard in order not to cry. I had lost, and lost dearly, internalizing it all for nothing.
I spent that summer blaming myself for allowing her to hit and berate my father and me. She was still under our roof that summer, the separation not finalized until that August. She and Dad were at each other’s throats at least once a week, as were she and I, only twice a week. I had previously arranged to move in with my grandmother that summer, but my father put a stop to the plan, saying that we needed to be a family. Without an effective financial leg to stand on (my fault), I had no choice.
What family was this, when she flung any insult she could think of at me, berating me for my hair, my body (she especially loved that one), my choice in friends, my singular status, my virginity (when she wasn’t pulling the accusation of “whore” out of the air), and anything else she could possibly think of? Dad fell to justifying her, his common phrase being, “She’s your mother.”
That came to a head one late July night. Mom was moving to her new apartment, and Dad volunteered me to help her. I had accidentally given the manager where I worked the wrong day off for the affair. As a result, my mother spent fifteen minutes on the way home (Dad never allowed me to drive due to insurance rates) slamming on the brakes in order for her to scream in my face how useless, stupid, spoiled, ignorant, selfish, and pathetic I was. She also threatened to never allow me to see my grandmother again (which was baseless at that point).
Turning in my seat, I yelled, “You are selfish, abusive, and emotionally manipulative!” Slapping me across the mouth, she yelled at me to get out of the car, and drove off.
When Dad picked me up, he was furious. He forced us to sit down at the dinner table to speak to one another civilly, and I immediately told him her threat to not allow me to see his mother again. The look on Mom’s face was akin to deer in the headlights when Dad rounded on her, and she fell to taunting me to distract him. “You could never hit me, you little shit!” She yelled.
Standing bolt upright, I poised my hand in the air to slap her. Dad grabbed me from behind, and held me in a bear hug as I kicked the air, screaming. Mom left the room, taunting, “Oh you could never do it! I’ll kick your ass if you do!”
When Dad let me down, he asked, “Are you crazy? Do you realize what you could have done?” Only now do I realize the extent of his words; she could have called the police on me for that.
My mother is gone from my home now, and to that I say good riddance. Still, it does not change the fact that she was abusive toward my father and me, and we both allowed it to happen to us, just because we were so enchanted by the kinder side of her persona. I have since told my aunt and my grandmother (as well as a few close friends and their parents) of the abuse, and all reactions were the approximate same; each person told was outraged by my mother’s abuse of my father and me. Each person expressed the desire to have stopped her from hurting us in the past, had they known of the extent. My aunt has rendered her home a safe zone for us, telling me that she will not welcome my mother’s presence. My friends and loved ones were also shocked as to the extent of my mother’s violence, and feared that she might very well have seen to the end of my father and me, if she had been so inclined.
It will be a long time before I heal from what my mother did, if at all. She still shamelessly parades the fact that she is my mother (as well as parades around the clothing that she took from my closet without my permission) as if nothing is wrong. I once did want children, but I now want to break this cycle; my theoretical child will not internalize any theoretical abuse from me. For that also, I have driven a knife into the second dream of finding the love of my life. Even if marriage laws did change overnight to the point where marriage would no longer be a man placing a proverbial noose about his neck, and hoping his wife won’t open the trapdoor beneath him, I still can’t go through with it. I just can’t live with the fact that my mother hurt my father, and that I have the same capacity to be cruel.
If there is any advice men and boys, could take from my story, I beg, hear this: it is not worth the abuse to see someone’s kind side. If someone truly loves you, that person would not justify hurting you in any way, shape, or form. TELL SOMEONE if you are being hurt by someone else, even if it is a loved one. I cannot emphasize this enough! Do not allow someone the power of your silence. Lastly, please understand that abuse can take any form; it does not have to be the carnival-type version of abuse that is shown to us on television and posters.
Thank you, Marian, for sharing your story. I hope you and your father are in a much better place.
In His Own Words/In Her Own Words is an effort to help raise awareness about the invisible victims of domestic violence, men. If you would like to submit your story, please follow the guidelines at the end of this article.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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